Archive for June, 2013

Books from Helsinki

30 June 2013 | This 'n' that

Helsinki: view it from different angles! Photo: Leena Lahti

Helsinki: view it from different angles! Photo: Leena Lahti

Helsinki is relatively young city, Finnish literature even younger.

Flushed with a huge wave of migration at the beginning of the 20th century, the capital and its people went through the dramatic times of gaining independence and the Civil War (1917–18). The capital – since 1812 – and the life experiences of its inhabitants have been plentifully featured in Finnish fiction.

In his doctoral dissertation, Lieven Ameel has concentrated on a period of Finnish literary history. His Moved by the City: Experiences of Helsinki in Finnish Prose Fiction 1889–1941 (2013, Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki) examines more than sixty novels, collections of short stories and individual short stories portraying the city: how do the characters experience this urban public space? (Popular – crime fiction, for example – and children’s literature are excluded.) More…

Me by myself

20 June 2013 | Authors, Essays, Non-fiction, On writing and not writing

Writer's block

In this series, Finnish authors ponder their profession. Jyrki Kiiskinen casts light on the process of getting his books written: who is it that actually does the job?

People think I am a writer. But I am not. At literary events they sometimes come up and praise my most recent work, if they have happened to like it, not knowing that I have not written a single book. I try to ignore negative criticism, although it is not easy to put up with being blamed for other people’s work. I accept praise unhesitatingly, on those rare occasions when I receive it, although it feels strange.

It’s as if the person I’m talking to thinks I was someone else. He talks about the book’s style, its characters and its narrative voice, supposing that they are my invention.

At that moment I feel like a trickster. But I can’t be bothered to correct the misconception. I slurp my red wine happily and nod in false modesty, gazing deep into my interlocutor’s eyes. I keep chatting, to give him the impression that he’s met a living writer, myself – the person behind my words.


Writes of passage

20 June 2013 | This 'n' that

Business as usual: participants of the Lahti Reunion. Photo: LIWRE

Debating the word: participants at the Lahti Reunion. Photo: LIWRE

The 26th Lahti International Writers’ Reunion took place at Messilä Manor (some 120 km from Helsinki, on Lake Vesijärvi) from 15 to 18 June.

Chaired by Virpi Hämeen-Anttila and Joni Pyysalo, writers from more than 20 countries held discussions in Finnish, English and French.

This summer the theme was ‘Breaking walls’. ‘Problems demand answers, answers demand questions. If attitudes harden, arms talk, and everyone erects a wall around himself, where is literature in the equation? Is the highest wall right there inside the writer? Or is literature itself a protecting wall? What happens when walls break down?’

The first Writers’ Reunion took place in Lahti – first at Mukkula Manor – fifty years ago; more than a thousand writers, translators, critics and other professionals both Finnish and foreign have come to Lahti to discuss writing. The Reunion has always been open to the public as well.

The biannual Reunion began life in 1963, during the Cold War. Writers from both sides of the Iron Curtain met under the oaks of Mukkula. In the Reunion’s blog some participants and organisers share their experiences of the past; here, the meeting’s one-time international secretary Marianne Bargum recalls the late 1970s and early 1980s:

‘…following in the footsteps of the legendary publisher Erkki Reenpää who knew everybody and all languages, I did my best to persuade big stars to come to Mukkula. Some writers had difficulties when they realised that they were not as well known in Finland as in their own countries. The French poet Michel Deguy left after one day, very offended when nobody knew how big a name he was. (I met him in Paris some years later and he apologised.)

A scandal with huge political consequences came close when the French philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy said some derogatory things about the Soviet head of state Brezhnev. The Russian delegate, Michael Baryshev, threatened to leave the conference, and Valentina Morozova, interpreter and politruk, had to phone the Soviet Embassy in Helsinki and explain that this was not very serious. The famous British critic and writer Al Alvarez did his best to calm down the antagonists in a panel.’

My own first personal experiences of this international fête (which could mean either wading in the mud on the way to the huge tent sheltering the discussions or basking in hot sunshine followed by the most gentle nightless nights), from the sunny summer of 1983: interviewing Salman Rushdie and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others, for the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Another time the bag containing some hundred copies of the latest issue of Books from Finland, fresh from the printing press, sat on a bus heading for Lahti while I sat on the one behind – which then broke down in the middle of the road, and this was before mobile phones. The driver did have a radio phone though, and the participants got their copies in time.

Soccer on the sand: Messilä beach. Photo: LIWRE

Soccer on the sand: Messilä beach. Photo: LIWRE

Among the traditions is a midnight football match between Finns and foreigners: the summer night is light and long. This time the result of the Finland against the rest of the world was convincing 6-3 to Finland.

New library for Helsinki

20 June 2013 | In the news

The new Helsinki library: Kaannos by ALA Architects Ltd

The new Helsinki library: Käännös by ALA Architects Ltd

The city of Helsinki will have a new Central Library in the near future: an architectural competition for a new building was completed in June. The winner, chosen out of 554 entries, foreign and Finnish, is entitled Käännös (‘Turn’ – or ‘Translation’), entered by the Finnish ALA Architects Ltd (architects Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki, Janne Teräsvirta, Samuli Woolston). The entry was also one of the favourites with the public in an earlier stage of the competition.

The jury’s decision was unanimous: in their opinion, Käännös is ‘impressive’ and ‘casually generous’; it fits into the urban structure as an feasible, usable and ecological construction. The site could not be more central: close to the citys’ railway station, it faces the House of Parliament, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the new Music Centre (opened 2011): literary art and literature will join the other art forms.

Juha Siltala: Nuoriso – mainettaan parempi? [Youth – better than its reputation?]

20 June 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

juha.siltalaNuoriso – mainettaan parempi? Nykynuorten sopeutumisratkaisut historiassa
[Youth – better than its reputation? Adaptation responses of contemporary youth in historical perspective]
Helsinki: WSOY, 2013. 543 p, ill.
ISBN 978-951-0-38581-4
38€, hardback

In his latest book professor and psychohistorian Juha Siltala examines what surveys tell us about the lives and attitudes of young people, especially in Finland. Siltala also considers the position of Western youth from a historical perspective. Finnish education has changed dramatically and continually since the Second World War. The media often give a negative image of modern youth, but the author shows that during the 2000s the majority of young people received more attention and better treatment from their parents than previous generations, and also showed a greater sense of social responsibility and faith in the future. However, economic pressures and the ever-increasing demands of the labour market threaten to undermine their confidence in the future and their ability to cope with life. Siltala considers their coping strategies, including fantasy stories, and examines the dangers and negative aspects of youth culture. The book is based on extensive source material and provides a multifaceted discussion of a permanently topical issue.
Translated by David McDuff


Grown-up talk

13 June 2013 | Non-fiction, Tales of a journalist

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Illustration: Joonas Väänänen

Would you say this to someone face to face? No? But anonymously, in writing, you do. Columnist Jyrki Lehtola takes a look at the way Finns tend to behave on the Internet

Babies. They’re cute. They have to be – they are babies after all. And their parents are lovely people, because they have those cute babies. Even they have a hard time believing how mellow and happy they are now that they have a baby.

But what happens to parents when the baby falls asleep and they get to creep off to the Internet? They completely freak out and turn into belligerent trolls. More…

Riikka Pelo: Jokapäiväinen elämämme [Our everyday life]

13 June 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

jokapaivainen.elamamme.peloJokapäiväinen elämämme
[Our everyday life]
Helsinki: Teos, 2013. 526 p.
ISBN 978-951-851-389-9
35.90€, hardback

At the centre of Riikka Pelo’s second novel are the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941) and her daughter Ariadna Efron (1912–1975). This broad historical novel depicts the mental landscape of Russia during the period between the two great wars, from the 1920s to the 1940s. The mother is a religious believer and idealist, her daughter a more pragmatic empiricist. The family’s fate is controlled by the Soviet state apparatus, which sends it into exile in Paris where Tsvetaeva’s husband Sergei Efron takes a job as a secret police informer in an organisation devoted to the repatriation of Soviet emigrés. In the 1930s they return to Moscow, where life under the watchful eye of Stalin is filled with difficulty and paranoia. Pelo portrays the awkward relationship between mother and daughter with particular vividness. The indisputable star of the family is the mother – her ambition extends to her daughter, who to her disappointment is more interested in the visual arts than in poetry. The historical characters of Pelo’s impressive novel live their contradictory lives in decades of social upheaval.
Translated by David McDuff



Writing silence

6 June 2013 | Fiction, poetry, Reviews

In contemporary poetry the ‘lyric I’ of previous decades often hides behind language; the poem’s speaker is not the poet him/herself, narrative is not the norm. The website of a Finnish family magazine in 2007 discussed this: ‘OMG, this thing called contemporary poetry – crap!’; ‘Who knows what kind of psychopharma the writer’s on!’; ‘No meanings, just words one after the other. Why can’t people write something sensible?’ But the writer – and the reader – of contemporary poetry deliberately ventures onto the boundaries of language, and art requires readers (listeners, viewers) to make the decision of what they consider ‘sensible’. Mervi Kantokorpi explores and interprets two new collections of poetry

I read two of this spring’s new collections of poetry one after the other: Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava 2013) by Harry Salmenniemi and Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos 2013) by Miia Toivio. The experience was perplexing.

These two works are completely different from one another as regards their individual poetics, and yet the similarities between the themes that arise from them was arresting. Both works seem to inhabit an internal world of sorrow and depression, a world where the function of poetry is to forge and show its readers a path out of the anxiety. In their silence – and even emptiness – both collections have two faces: one lit up, the other darkened by grief. More…

Within the mirror

6 June 2013 | Fiction, poetry

kivirivitAn extract from Kivirivit (‘Stone lines’, Otava, 2013). Introduction and commentary, Writing silence,
by Mervi Kantokorpi


Then, not now. White birches against the white
sky. A vase in the middle of the room.
An attempt to make contact, but with what? The room slowly
fills with whisper and touch. A woman,
turning to catch herself in the mirror,
is afraid the phone will start ringing and startle
her. A gap-closer, not an equaliser.
Beneath the bridges, faces around the fire, these, those. More…

Twisted tongues

6 June 2013 | Fiction, poetry

pysty.hiljaisuusPoems from Pysty hiljaisuus (‘Vertical silence’, Teos, 2013). Introduction and commentary, Writing silence, by Mervi Kantokorpi

She said, it was I who said, alone, my feelings confused. Should I somehow have cleared my head, though all I wanted to do was write in the water? ‘Behind me I drag desire’s reflection, like the skirts of a boat sinking towards the depths,’ she once bespoke me. ‘Your skirts are heavy with algae and their smell would banish even the insects. A deer, swimming across a long lake, becomes entangled by the heel, only worsening things as it thrashes there, until it too falls straight down, never floating, to the bottom of the lake,’ I replied. She turned her back and leant against the wall. I couldn’t see her fingers as she, controlling the sound, ripped off a small, wriggling fin, closed it in her fist and turned towards me with an unnatural smile:




Winging it

6 June 2013 | This 'n' that

From Finland to Africa: Ilmari takes off in 2012. Photo: Juhani Koivu

From Finland to Africa: Ilmari takes off in 2012. Photo: Juhani Koivu

Ilmari is back!

Last October we brought you the story of a winged traveller who left his home in southern Finland for Africa. Ilmari is a nine-year old osprey who spent his winter in Cameroon; as he and his family are fish-eaters, they have to foresake their frozen homeland for about five months of the year.

It’s a long way to Cameroon, around 6,500 kilometres, and the return trip is a dangerous one. But Ilmari made it: his satellite transmitter reported that he returned to his native landscape on 21 April, after flying 7,351 kilometres, which took him 23 days – an average of 320 kilometres per day. He took a couple of days off on Crete and in Serbia.

Now satellite transmitters and live cameras reveal all the intimate secrets of birds of prey (and bears, hibernating in their lairs). On this British site osprey Lizzie babysits as her chicks flap their tiny wings in early June.

Now it’s time for Ilmari to concentrate on fishing, hopefully in order to feed his offspring – until October, when he will take to the skies again.

Art Deco / ja taiteet / i konsten / and the arts

6 June 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

art.decoScientific editor: Laura Gutman
Editor: Susanna Luojus
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (the Finnish Literature Society), 2013. 179 p., ill.
Texts in Finnish and Swedish, summaries in English
ISBN 978-952-222-430-9
€38, hardback

This work was published simultaneously with the opening of the exhibition ‘Art Déco and the Arts. France–Finlande 1905–1935’, running at the Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki from March to 21 July. Antiquity was the primary source of inspiration for this broad artistic movement in France, after the breakthrough of Fauvism in 1905. In Finland this antimodern – and yet at the same very modern – movement manifested itself most clearly in industrial art, in the 1920s in classicism and 1930s in functionalism. But from early on, Finnish painters and sculptors also kept an eye on the French art and artists – among them Maurice Denis, the spokesman of the antimodernists. The dialogue between the visual and the performative arts (theatre and dance) in Finland is also examined. Samples of Art Deco architecture are mostly absent, as the emphasis is on painting and sculpture. Some less well-known artists of the period (painter Nikolai Kaario, sculptor and engraver Eva Gyldén) are introduced. The exhibition and the richly illustrated book introduce both Finnish and French works – from many museums and collections in France – of both industrial and fine arts, in pictures and in words by nine specialists, offering the reader fresh and interesting comparisons.